Carroll native honors home's role in history

Civil War buff leads the charge marking anniversary of battle in Westminster

June 10, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

After Thomas LeGore helped Frederic Shriver Klein convert the Shriver Homestead in Union Mills into a museum, Klein asked LeGore to help him write a book about the Civil War.

While doing research, LeGore, then 17, became enamored with a small battle that took place on June 29, 1863, in Westminster known as Corbit's Charge. But LeGore, a Carroll County native, discovered there was not a lot of information available locally on the Civil War battle.

"All of the local newspaper accounts of the war had disappeared," he said.

Using letters, diaries, other newspapers, official records and personal reminiscences, he wrote Just South of Gettysburg. The book was the seed of a 40-year quest to bring Carroll County's role in the Civil War to the forefront.

"I had a good career, and I was able to retire young and give back to my community," said LeGore, now 61, who retired after 36 years with 3M in Westminster, where he worked as a human resources and administrative manager.

"After spending decades preserving and promoting the heritage of Carroll County, seeing my dream realized gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction," he said.

LeGore's preservation efforts include: development of a granite monument, writing interpretations for sites in the county related to the Civil War, working as a living historian, and helping to promote the county's Civil War history through the Maryland Heritage Areas Program.

On June 23 and 24, he will be front and center at festivities to commemorate the 144th anniversary of the Battle of Westminster, or Corbit's Charge.

The events will include a Civil War living history encampment, cannon-firing exhibitions, children's activities, a tent-style church service and a guided walking tour of the battle site.

"The Corbit's Charge event is going to be very special this year," said Timmi Pierce, executive director of the Historical Society of Carroll County. "It's a good educational experience for children."

And it changes every year, LeGore said. It started in 2003 as a series of speeches and has grown to include 125 living historians dressed in period dress, a processional, a military funeral, and a series of re-enactments.

For the event, LeGore dons a handmade butternut brown, wool uniform with black piping, Maryland buttons, a black vest, gray pants and leather shoes, to portray John Hayden, a member of the 2nd Maryland Infantry who was killed in Gettysburg, Pa.

New to the repertoire is a re-enactment by descendants of the 150th New York Infantry of a battle their ancestors participated in, Legore said.

The group will show how about 16 Union soldiers who used the Opera House in Westminster as their headquarters were captured.

"[The men] stopped for a siesta or something and all but three were taken prisoner," LeGore said. "They never fired a shot."

The walking tour will include a stop at the 5-foot-tall rustic mahogany granite monument commemorating the battle. LeGore spent two decades raising funds for the structure that was dedicated last year.

"I felt like this battle deserved more support than had been demonstrated," LeGore said.

A parade of the living historians and spectators will walk to the monument. Then, a ceremony similar to a military funeral will be held at the gravesite of Lt. John William Murray, a member of the 4th Virginia Cavalry, in the graveyard across the street from the monument.

If not for LeGore, Lt. John William Murray - who died in the battle and was originally identified on the grave marker as William W. Murray - might never have been properly identified in the cemetery.

"The names of prominent people were changed because their bodies were stolen for ransom," LeGore said. "While researching Corbit's Charge at the National Archives, I discovered the person buried under the grave marker for William W. Murray was actually Lt. John William Murray, a soldier in Company E of the 4th regiment of the Virginia Cavalry."

LeGore added a second marker with the correct identification, he said. Today, both markers remain at the grave.

LeGore also has served as an adviser and researcher on about eight books, including a series by former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Most recently, he was named to the board of the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area, a program started last July to help promote tourism and economic and educational development in the heritage area.

"Tom has dedicated his entire life to being a strong advocate for Carroll County's Civil War history," said Cathy Bety, also a heritage area board member and curator of the county's historical society. "He is the historian on the board, and I represent historical places."

The heritage area program is dedicated to helping smaller organizations at the local level, said Bety. Through the program, nonprofits and other organizations are eligible for grants of up to $1,000, loans and tax incentives, she said.

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